Teddy Palmore, '23
Washington, DC has about 693,000 residents. Two states have smaller populations, but this technicality should not matter; there is no plausible reason why anyone living in the United States should not have representation in Congress. DC pays the highest federal income taxes per capita, so why should its residents not have a say in how their own taxes are used? All American citizens have the right to Congressional representation, and the District is no different. If the argument for statehood is so crystal clear, then why do so many refuse to consider establishing the Douglass Commonwealth as the 51st state?
Anti-statehood politicians repeat the same set of arguments against DC statehood when confronted with the topic. Their points generally either have no basis or present problems that do not exist. Here are some of these arguments, and why they miss the mark.
1. “DC Statehood is unconstitutional”
This point has some legitimate basis. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution describes a federal district that would contain the seat of power. This would be a valid point if the plan for DC Statehood included the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court within the borders of the new state. In fact, the plan for the Douglass Commonwealth has a “National Capital Service Area” containing the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court that is not in the state. Thus, the “seat of power” would remain in a federal district, not in any state.
2. “DC isn’t big enough to become a state”
700,000 people live in the District. Land doesn’t vote.
3. “DC should be re-absorbed by Maryland”
Such an arrangement, called “retrocession,” simply would not be democratic. The people of DC voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood in 2016, not joining Maryland. The whole reason that the issue of DC statehood exists is because of the will of the people. Neither Washingtonians nor Marylanders voted for such a change, so retrocession is not feasible because it wasn’t even an option to begin with.
4. “DC voters elect corrupt politicians to public offices”
This (highly subjective) argument is a non-issue. If DC voters elect corrupt politicians, then so be it. Should New York be stripped of its statehood because of Andrew Cuomo’s corruption? Voters have a right to elect anyone they see fit to hold public office; anything less is undemocratic, and it is not the role of the federal government to decide whether DC voters make poor decisions.
5. “This is a partisan issue. DC statehood just means more blue seats in Congress!”
The entire anti-statehood movement essentially boils down to this. At the end of the day, opponents of statehood (who are overwhelmingly Republicans) simply do not want more Democrats in Congress. Now, one cannot deny that if DC was red that Democrats would resist statehood. The benefits of congressional representation surpass voting on partisan legislation. The pandemic has underscored how important congressional representation would be to the welfare of DC residents. Since DC has no say in any committees, our allocation of vaccines fell far short of what we needed. The daytime population of the District approaches 1.4 million, meaning almost 700,000 people commute into DC for work; Congress’s allocation of vaccines only accounted for the “night-time” population of DC. DC had no recourse in Congress because it has no voice, so the issue remained unresolved.
In addition, the riots on January 6 exposed another issue about DC’s status as a territory. The federal government is able to control the DC National Guard, so the response time to the Capitol was painfully slow and allowed the riots to continue for longer than they would have otherwise. On the subject of autonomy, DC doesn’t even have full control over the laws it passes. Congress can challenge or stop any legislation the City Council passes, so DC can’t even pass laws for itself.
DC statehood is an issue of democracy. Many believe that the population of the District is transient: just transplants who move here to work for the federal government. On the contrary, there are families (who are primarily minorities) who have lived here for decades and have had no voice. Statehood is a moral and civil rights issue and should be a no-brainer. Let’s hope it gets somewhere soon.
Image from Mr.TinDC on Flickr.